Preserving Apamea from Iowa

Cultural preservation is a growing concern in the modern world of archaeology and ancient Near Eastern studies. The rise and distress in the Near East has endangered archaeological sites with many becoming victims of destruction and looting. While this has been a problem since ancient times with grave robbers emptying tombs and burials for profit, the problem has become increasingly worse in modern times.

In the past few years, many sites in Syria are actively looted and destroyed due to the civil war and conflict.  This distress has created problems for archaeologists and the sites cannot be excavated, studied, or properly protected. The Roman city of Apamea has been particularly devastated. This extraordinary site boasts one of the largest standing colonnades and theatres in the Roman world.  It also contains many mosaics, church remains, and the remains of a large agora; the site was once a large hub of commerce and culture for the Syrio-Palestine Roman world. Now Apamea has been reduced to crumbling remains and looter’s pits, far from its condition in just 2011.  Below are two pictures of the site in 2011 and 2012.


Apamea in July 2011


Apamea in 2012.

In a course I am currently enrolled in at the University of Iowa, Digital Approaches to Art History, my professor, Björn Anderson, approached our class with the problem of representing and preserving history that succumbs to destruction. As a class, we decided the answer was to reconstruct the site using 3D models including Sketchup, Google Earth, and excavation reports.  I chose to model the Roman theatre, one of the largest of the Roman Empire with a cavea diameter of 139m.  As of 2010, only 1/8th of the theatre has been excavated, but thanks to excavation reports and drawings of the excavations led by Cynthia Finlayson from 2007-2010 I was able to create the reconstruction below:

apamea theatre_front

apamea theatre_rear

From this project people will be able to view and study the ruins of Apamea from across the world.  Through preserving sites in this way scholars can create a virtual representation of the physical remains that will survive environmental and human destruction. This method of cultural preservation allows individuals who may not be versed in archaeological jargon to understand, appreciate, and draw attention to important remains that are inaccessible to many.  Through using programs like Sketchup and Google Earth, both of which have free versions, the archaeological record can come alive on the Internet and be available to everyone for free.